by Carol Bebelle (bio), co-founder and executive director, Ashe Cultural Arts Center
Private foundations, convinced of the need to expand their reach to community-based organizations that serve marginalized communities, should begin with a two-fold strategy (1) Altering their guidances to their traditional grantees (museums, operas, symphonies, etc.) to require significant partnerships with diverse community-based organizations in their communities, and (2) Using the networks of community-based arts organizations (National Performance Network, Diverse Spaces, Leveraging Investments and Creativity etc…), artists (Alternate Routes etc.), and funders (Grantmakers in the Arts…), to identify potential grantees for consideration.
These strategies should be accompanied by involvement with foundation industry organizations and colleagues that fund diverse community-based arts organizations, and regional convenings focused on culture/art/community and change which would allow foundation representatives the opportunity to learn about organizations and models that are effective in this work.
To strengthen the capacity for foundations to recognize effective organizations and programs in this targeted area, grant review teams should also be adjusted to include representatives from currently funded programs by other funders (Ford, Nathan Cummings, Lambent, Kellogg, Open Society, etc…) and grant officers with a history of this style funding when possible.
This is a beginning plan for adjusting the course of grant-making for a foundation. To become good at grant-making in this area, foundations should also review the values, mission, knowledge base and analysis of America’s sociology, demography and capacity to meet the democratic principles of social justice. The foundations armed with this reflection should look to find an evolved strategy and approach that serves the foundation well and the nation better than their previous style of grantmaking.
NCRP’s Fusing Arts,Culture and Social Change by author Holly Sidford is a most recent wake-up call to us in the cultural and creative communities that we are in a non-reversible cultural shift. Our increasing diversity is meeting with a sluggish to absent capacity to adapt and rather than becoming stronger and richer as a country we are stalling, resisting and denying the obvious reality.
The curriculum for learning about and working to accept our new neighbors, co-workers, fellow-students, and fellow-Americans is being provided in community-based cultural and art programs where people are encountering each other, checking each other out and making the gradual and necessary acceptance of new folks in our communities.
This community making is intimate and careful. We are meeting our different neighbor/friend/family member on the block around the corner at the store etc. Community gatherings are another place where this delicate diplomacy takes place.
This is a rich opportunity for the cultural and creative communities to be the acknowledged guides to this better practice of diversity at work. There are thousands of efforts, initiatives and programs attempting this work across America because it is necessary and because it appears be do-able at the community level.
Foundations that appreciate culture and art and are investors in culture and art should recognize the service this community diplomacy work is to our American community as a whole. Supporting this work is a very important part of building sturdy bridges to our richly diverse present and tomorrow.